Why in Iceland?

Due to its once remote location in the mid North Atlantic, Iceland has always been dependent on good relations and communication with foreign countries. For centuries Icelanders travelled abroad to attend university and it has always been considered an essential part of an Icelander’s general education to spend time observing the culture and traditions of other nations. Moreover, Icelanders have long become used to reading books and other educational materials in foreign languages. Language skills and cultural literacy have been of vital importance when communicating with other nations.

Languages in Icelandic schools

In Icelandic primary schools it is obligatory to study two foreign languages and in many schools pupils have the option of choosing a third. In senior high school all students study a minimum of three foreign languages and those who elect to study the humanities study four to five foreign languages. Language education therefore plays a central role in our education system.

Scandinavian languages

Icelanders have always sought to encourage and promote a good relationship with the other Nordic countries, and they have found that becoming competent in at least one of the other Scandinavian languages is the most effective way of doing so. This is one of the reasons why Danish remains obligatory at both the primary school and senior high school. In the faculty of humanities, all the Nordic languages are taught at a university level.

Translation and research

Due to increasing relations with other countries in all social spheres, translation from other languages to Icelandic and vice versa has increased immensely.

At the Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute there is ongoing research on all the languages taught in Icelandic schools and the cultures associated with them, as well as on foreign language teaching methodology. It also carries out research in the fields of translation, comparative grammar and dictionary studies.

Native language

Despite active relations with other countries and abundant foreign influence throughout the centuries, Icelanders have nevertheless managed to preserve their native language. The main reason is Iceland’s national literary heritage. While there are fewer than twenty buildings in the whole country that are more than 200 years old, the nation has enjoyed 1,000 years of an unbroken literary tradition in the native tongue. Another important factor in the preservation of Icelandic is the tradition of an established language policy. When new words are needed, the general trend has been to make sure that they are well suited to the existing grammatical structure of Icelandic. Thus, instead of accepting foreign words wholesale into the language or adapting them slightly to ‘sound’ more Icelandic, neologisms are often created from Icelandic source words.

Attitude towards languages

The Vigdís Finnbogadóttir Institute places great emphasis on the value of a positive view towards languages and that applies equally to Icelandic as to foreign languages. The Institute is convinced that the attitude towards languages serves as a vital component of cultural heritage and national identity and wishes to contribute towards research in the field of attitudes towards languages and cultures as well as to how these factors interrelate with national identity. Such research could be of immense importance for nations whose languages are under threat.

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